When hiking up a mountain, well-marked trails prevent you from wasting time and energy, facing an insurmountable obstacle on the way, or getting lost. The same holds true when navigating a profession. Career pathways help you acquire the skills and knowledge needed to get ahead. We’ve always been big fans of career pathways, so were happy to see two sessions focused on this topic at the 2020 ASAE Virtual Annual Meeting.
• A Roadmap to Strategic Success: Developing Your Profession’s Career Pathway presented by Denise Roosendaal, CAE, executive director, and Kevin Hurley, marketing director at the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE)
• Creating Career Pathways Using Competency Based Education presented by Veronica Diaz, PhD, CAE, director of professional learning at EDUCAUSE
Reviewing our notes, we picked out useful takeaways from these two sessions.
The value and purpose of career pathways
When trails lead off in all directions from the parking lot, how do you know which one is best to take to the mountain summit? A trail map shows the trailhead, route, length, and difficulty of each trail going up the mountain.
When people are figuring out the next steps for their career, they too need some kind of navigational aid to figure out which educational programs will help them achieve their career goals and where they should start.
Career pathways help people understand which competencies are necessary to advance their career and what programs they should take to acquire those competencies. Veronica Diaz of EDUCAUSE said, “Pathways illuminate where you are going.”
ICE uses a visual metaphor of a subway map to illustrate their career pathways. Some people stay on one line their whole career and some transfer to a different line. When you click on one of the pathway’s job roles, it takes you to a list of associated competencies.
Career pathways are a good way to professionalize a career if many people in your industry end up there by accident, as they do in the credentialing or association management professions. Pathways provide a structured and thoughtful approach to navigating and succeeding in a profession.
If workforce research has identified skills gaps in your industry or profession, a career pathways program can help train people to meet the demand for those skills. You can show the connection between the skills employers say they need and the educational content your association is developing for its career pathways.
Career pathways drive people into your association’s educational and credentialing programs, particularly microcredentialing and digital badge programs—and help your association generate new streams of non-dues revenue.
Career pathways help guide decisions about the development and sunsetting of educational programs. Instead of a scattershot approach to program development, you have a research-based framework for prioritizing new programs—and a reason for not going along with a volunteer leader’s pet project.
Planning a career pathways program
Get clear on your goals. The ICE team suggests asking these questions:
• How does ta career pathway advance our mission?
• Does it align with or complement our strategic plan or vision?
• How will we organize for success? Do we have the resources and expertise? If not, who can help?
• Can we commit to a strategic approach and avoid jumping to tactics prematurely?
Identify your target audiences. Start with one or two and build over time from there. Naturally, professionals in your field or industry are a primary target audience. But, which levels and/or positions?
Consider another critical audience for marketing purposes: employers, for example, HR staff and managers overseeing professional development budgets.
In the future, you may also want to offer pathways for suppliers who need a deeper understanding of your industry or profession.
ICE considers these issues during a situational analysis.
• Are we confident that a market need exists?
• If not, how can we confirm and test assumptions?
• What do we have at our disposal?
• Who do we need to talk to (volunteers, members, public)?
• What else is out there? Does a career pathway exist? If so, is it serving the market need? Can you complement or enhance what’s already out there?
Veronica Diaz suggests asking what uniqueness your association can bring to a career pathway that professionals can’t get elsewhere. Think in terms of your association’s values and industry expertise.
Marketing must play a role in the development process from the start. Don’t just add it on at the end. ICE suggests asking these questions:
• Who will benefit the most from our career pathway?
• Will we provide access for free? To members only?
• What are the pros/cons of charging for access? What are others charging for a similar product?
ICE and EDUCAUSE relied on several methods to understand career pathways and identify competencies:
• Job task analysis
• Member demographics
• Focus groups and individual interviews
• Learning program data
• Higher education curriculum review
ICE sent out a member survey on competencies and job roles to find out which hard and soft skills are needed to be a successful professional. They timed the survey to coincide with their annual conference so they could promote participation there. They also held focus groups during the conference where they gathered real career stories to validate their assumptions and understanding of how people move around and/or advance in the credentialing profession.
The goal is to seek understanding, said Kevin Hurley of ICE:
• Who is in your profession?
• What do they need and what do they want?
• Where are they coming from and where are they going?
• When do they enter and exit the profession?
• Why do they choose a career in this field and what keeps them there?
Designing career pathways
EDUCAUSE identified five personas for their career pathways and ICE chose six. Then, ICE worked on these elements for each persona:
• Pathway onboarding
• Technical development
• Role and responsibilities
• Learning pathway
• Advancement options
EDUCAUSE took a modular approach to their pathway content. They designed microlearning modules that could be turned into stackable content for online and in-person formats. Modular content allows you to develop new programs (for example, a new credentialing program) in response to changing conditions in your industry. You can repurpose content by pulling a few modules from one pathway and a few from another.
Each EDUCAUSE program is associated with microcredentials (and digital badges), which makes them more valuable for employers too.
EDUCAUSE pathways begin with a competency self-assessment that helps learners figure out where they need to start their education journey. It also helps them focus their learning experience, for example, if they score low in a specific competency, they know they should do all the optional readings when they get to that module.
These self-assessments also act as benchmarks. Learners and employers can see progress made as well as gaps that still exist—and, therefore, the need for more professional development.
How long does it take to develop career pathways? For ICE, it took just under two years. This timeline included eight months up front to identify goals as well as the intended purpose and usage of the pathways tool, and design the survey and focus group questions. The survey was out for one month. It took another four to five months for data analysis and persona development, and the remaining ten or so months to design and develop the pathways.
But the work isn’t complete. ICE says you must continually gather feedback to improve pathways—it’s a circular, not a linear, process. Veronica Diaz said that data is the lifeblood of a pathway. It drives decisions for what to do next, what to update (or sunset), and how to respond to market needs.
Career pathways help members and customers legitimize career decisions and validate career choices. Pathways are inspirational and aspirational. Learners see a vision for their future. They understand they’re on a career path, not just holding a job.